by Dorothy Greco
One Sunday morning in October it became clear that after fifteen years of service to our church, it was time for my husband to hand in his resignation. Though we had seen this coming, the realization gutted us.
Five months later, he packed up his office and we said a tearful goodbye to the congregation. He was now not simply without a job. We were without a community. Without the surrogate aunts and uncles who had loved on our kids. Without the friends we had prayed for, cried with, and walked alongside.
These were not our only losses.
Three days prior to that pivotal Sunday morning, we buried my mother-in-law. She died in her mid-seventies after a lightening quick battle with pancreatic cancer. Within the next few months, my father and two other close relatives were also diagnosed with cancer. Additionally, though we didn’t know it at the time, our eldest son had just spent his last summer with us. Two years later, he would be married and living in the midwest. Launching a child is not nearly the same as losing a parent, but it is a loss nonetheless.
And then there was the toll all of this took on our prayer lives. Prior to how that autumn unfolded, my husband and I had an ongoing dialogue with God. We had always sensed his nearness and affection for us. In this season, it was as if we lost our Wi-Fi connection mid conversation. Perhaps our doubts and uncertainties became like static, drowning out God’s voice. Perhaps our sorrows temporarily rendered us deaf.
We’ve been on this faith journey long enough to know that Why? is not the right question in these circumstances. We neither blamed God nor saw ourselves as blameless. However, because our intense need to understand what happened coincided with feeling disconnected from God, we both felt bereft and insecure. We retreated—from each other and from God—as a form of self-protection.
All of this happened seven years ago. Prayer has never returned to what it had been. We’re certainly not the first to go through what others have called a dark night of the soul. (And it’s never just a night. If we could trust the coming dawn, it wouldn’t feel so dark.)
Lately I’ve begun to wonder: are there times when God’s seeming silence is actually an indication of his trust in us? Is this what it means to grow up? Is God walking us to the school bus stop, giving us a kiss, and saying, “Have a good day. You’ll do fine,” knowing that though we’ll feel the pain of separation, we will, in fact, do just fine.
Part of aging is growing comfortable with paradox. We have to accept that though we’re incredibly wise, there’s so much we don’t know. We have to find peace with the reality that the confidence we feel today might morph into doubt and uncertainty tomorrow.
Maybe one of the most seminal lessons of midlife is that the opposite of loss is not gain but discovery. For it’s only since we left the comfort and safety of that church that we’ve learned how brave we are—and how desperately we need God. Maybe all of midlife is both and. Maybe I’m OK with that.